Coastal Caroli­nas feel first blows of Florence

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE -

WILM­ING­TON, N.C. — Hur­ri­cane Florence’s lead­ing edge bat­tered the Carolina coast Thurs­day, bend­ing trees and shoot­ing frothy sea­wa­ter over streets on the Outer Banks as the storm closed in with 90 mph winds for a drench­ing siege that could last all week­end. Tens of thou­sands were with­out power.

Winds and rain were ar­riv­ing later in South Carolina, and a few peo­ple were still walk­ing on the sand at Myrtle Beach while North Carolina was get­ting pounded.

Fore­cast­ers said con­di­tions only will get more lethal as the storm pushes ashore early to­day near the North Carolina-South Carolina line and makes its way slowly in­land. Its surge could cover all but a sliver of the Carolina coast un­der as much as 11 feet of ocean wa­ter, and days of down­pours could un­load more than 3 feet of rain,

touch­ing off se­vere flood­ing.

The cloud cov­er­age from the storm, an in­di­ca­tion of its size, is as large as the Caroli­nas.

Florence’s winds weak­ened as it drew closer to land, drop­ping from a peak of 140 mph ear­lier in the week, and the hur­ri­cane was down­graded from a Cat­e­gory 4 to a 1.

But North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper warned: “Don’t re­lax, don’t get com­pla­cent. Stay on guard. This is a pow­er­ful storm that can kill. To­day the threat be­comes a re­al­ity.”

Al­most 30,000 peo­ple were al­ready with­out power as the storm ap­proached, he said.

Fore­cast­ers said that given the storm’s size and slug­gish track, it could cause dam­age akin to what the Houston area saw dur­ing Hur­ri­cane Har­vey just over a year ago, with flood­wa­ters swamp­ing homes and busi­nesses and washing over in­dus­trial waste sites and hog-ma­nure ponds.

“It truly is re­ally about the whole size of this storm,” Na­tional Hur­ri­cane Cen­ter Di­rec­tor Ken Gra­ham said. “The larger and the slower the storm is, the greater the threat and the im­pact — and we have that.”

As Florence drew near, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump tweeted that the Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency and first re­spon­ders are “sup­plied and ready.”

Schools and busi­nesses closed as far south as Ge­or­gia, air­lines can­celed more than 1,500 flights, and coastal towns in the Caroli­nas were largely emp­tied out.

Duke En­ergy Co. said Florence could knock out elec­tric­ity to three-quar­ters of its 4 mil­lion cus­tomers in the Caroli­nas, and power fail­ures could last for weeks. Work­ers are be­ing called in from the Mid­west and Florida to help in the storm’s af­ter­math, it said.

As of 10 p.m., Florence was cen­tered about 60 miles east-south­east of Wilm­ing­ton and 50 miles south of More­head City, its for­ward move­ment slowed to 6 mph. Hur­ri­cane-force winds ex­tended 80 miles from its cen­ter, and trop­i­cal-storm-force winds up to 195 miles.

Around mid­day, Span­ish moss blew side­ways in the trees as the winds in­creased in Wilm­ing­ton, and float­ing docks bounced atop swells at More­head City. Some of the few peo­ple still left in Nags Head on the Outer Banks took pho­tos of waves topped white froth.

Wilm­ing­ton res­i­dent Julie Ter­rell said she was plenty con­cerned af­ter walk­ing to break­fast past a row of shops for­ti­fied with boards, sand­bags and hur­ri­cane shut­ters.

“On a scale of 1 to 10, I’m prob­a­bly a 7” in terms of worry, she said. “Be­cause it’s Mother Na­ture. You can’t pre­dict.”

Fore­cast­ers’ Euro­pean cli­mate model is pre­dict­ing 2 tril­lion to 11 tril­lion gal­lons of rain will fall on North Carolina over the next week, ac­cord­ing to me­te­o­rol­o­gist Ryan Maue of weath­er­mod­els.com. That’s enough wa­ter to fill the Em­pire State Build­ing nearly 40,000 times.

Fed­eral, state and lo­cal of­fi­cials have al­ready spent days try­ing to warn peo­ple in Florence’s path of the po­ten­tial sever­ity of the storm.

“We can­not un­der­es­ti­mate this storm,” Cooper said. “Wind speeds may have dropped some from yes­ter­day, but we traded that for a larger wind field that ex­pands 200 miles with trop­i­cal-storm-force winds.”

He pleaded with peo­ple to move to a safe place and lis­ten to their lo­cal au­thor­i­ties if they are asked to move again to safer ground.

North Carolina had opened 108 shel­ters, which cur­rently house more than 7,000 peo­ple, and is try­ing to open more.

South Carolina of­fi­cials said Thurs­day that about 3,900 peo­sion ple had moved into shel­ters, with three shel­ters com­pletely oc­cu­pied. The state still has space for more than 31,000 peo­ple across 60 shel­ters.

More than 1.7 mil­lion peo­ple in the Caroli­nas and Vir­ginia were warned to evac­u­ate over the past few days, and the homes of about 10 mil­lion were un­der watches or warn­ings for the hur­ri­cane or trop­i­cal-storm con­di­tions.

Home­less af­ter los­ing her job at Wal­mart three months ago, 25-year-old Brit­tany Jones went to a storm shel­ter at a high school near Raleigh. She said a hur­ri­cane has a way of bring­ing ev­ery­one to the same level.

“It doesn’t mat­ter how much money you have or how many gen­er­a­tors you have if you can’t get gas,” she said. “Whether you have a house or not, when the storm comes it will bring ev­ery­one to­gether. A storm can come and wipe your house out overnight.”

The mini golf cour­ses and neon beach­wear shops were closed in Myrtle Beach, and the empty streets had a beach­town-in-win­ter feel­ing. But down on the sand it­self, fac­ing a low, gray sky, peo­ple surfed, swam, sat shirt­less in lowslung beach chairs and tossed around balls like it was a hot Tues­day af­ter­noon in July.

“We’re stay­ing,” said Rosetta Gask­ins, a school cafe­te­ria cook who had called her 18-year-old son down from his col­lege up­state to spend the week­end with her at a sort of mul­ti­day house party at Paco and Kathi Lon­go­ria’s place, a half mile in from the beach.

There were 13 of them al­to­gether, and there would be hot dogs and pan­cakes, games, a 1-year-old’s birth­day party, and days of watch­ing the weather from the porch. Ev­ery­one was pretty san­guine about things.

Ev­ery­one ex­cept for Jennifer Bel­lamy.

“I was in panic mode and think­ing I was with a bunch of crazy peo­ple and they were think­ing I was the crazy one,” she said.

Florence’s weak­en­ing as it neared the coast cre­ated ten­with

be­tween some who left home and au­thor­i­ties who wor­ried that the storm could still be deadly.

Frus­trated af­ter evac­u­at­ing his beach home for a storm that was later down­graded, re­tired nurse Fred­er­ick Fisher grum­bled in the lobby of a Wilm­ing­ton ho­tel sev­eral miles in­land.

“Against my bet­ter judg­ment, due to emo­tion­al­ism, I evac­u­ated,” said Fisher, 74. “I’ve got four cats in­side the house. If I can’t get back in a week, af­ter a while they might turn on each other or trash the place.”

Au­thor­i­ties pushed back against any sug­ges­tion the storm’s threat was ex­ag­ger­ated.

The po­lice chief of a bar­rier is­land in Florence’s bull’seye said he was ask­ing for next-of-kin con­tact in­for­ma­tion from the few res­i­dents who re­fused to leave.

“I’m not go­ing to put our per­son­nel in harm’s way, es­pe­cially for peo­ple that we’ve al­ready told to evac­u­ate,” Wrightsville Beach Po­lice Chief Dan House said.

In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Jonathan Drew, Seth Boren­stein, Jef­frey Collins, Jennifer Kay, Gary Robert­son, Sarah Rankin, Denise Lavoie, Meg Kin­nard, Skip Fore­man, Jeff Martin, David Koe­ing, Gerry Broome and Jay Reeves of The As­so­ci­ated Press; and by staff mem­bers of

AP/The News & Ob­server/TRAVIS LONG

Fe­ro­cious waves gen­er­ated by Hur­ri­cane Florence lash the Oceana Pier and Pier House Restau­rant on Thurs­day in At­lantic Beach, N.C. The cen­ter of the storm was still nearly 200 miles off­shore.

AP/ALEX BRAN­DON

Fish­er­men launch their boat (left) in rough waves Thurs­day to try to re­cover their haul-seine net at Vir­ginia Beach, Va., as Hur­ri­cane Florence’s lead­ing edge bat­ters the coast­line. At right, po­lice of­fi­cers block the road lead­ing to Emer­ald Isle, N.C.

AP/TOM COPELAND

AP/CHUCK BUR­TON

Lo­cals toast Hur­ri­cane Florence as they ride out part of the storm Thurs­day at the Bar­bary Coast bar in down­town Wilm­ing­ton, N.C.

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